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First drive: Hummer H3 is just the beginning

Hefty: H3 consumes at least 13.7L/100km in 3.7 guise, with a V8 to come.

Hummer range looks set to grow with V8, diesel, ethanol power - and a ute

11 Apr 2007

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in INDIANA

GENERAL Motors' Hummer H3 plans will expand from late 2008 or early 2009 to include petrol V8 and turbo-diesel applications.

At least one extra bodystyle is also expected to arrive, in the guise of a still-secret four-door crew-cab-style utility (known as an SUT Sport Utility Truck in Hummer-speak), as well as the possibility of a more traditional two-door short-cab ute.

All will join the South African-built five-cylinder petrol H3 SUV model line-up announced in February and available from July in Australia.

The V8 was unveiled last week at the New York International Auto Show, on the back of the Australian media’s first-drive of the existing five-cylinder H3 in Indiana.

Dubbed the Alpha, the H3 V8 uses a variation of GM's Gen-III all-alloy two-valve pushrod V8. In this application, it is a compact 5.3-litre unit developing 224kW of power at 5200rpm and 438Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

In contrast, a 3.7-litre inline five-cylinder petrol engine producing 180kW at 5600rpm and 328Nm at 4600rpm powers the existing H3.

Both engines use GM’s Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission, driving a two-speed electronically controlled full-time 4WD system.

For now, the 3.7’s five-speed manual gearbox – the first Hummer to offer one – is not available in the V8.

GM claims the H3 Alpha V8 will sprint to 100km/h from standstill in around eight seconds. No V8 fuel consumption figures have been divulged, but the five-cylinder models return between 13.7 and 14.5L/100km in the ADR81/01 official combined average results.

Compared to the five-cylinder models, the V8’s 2721kg towing capacity increases by more than 33 per cent.

In order to install the V8, Hummer modified the H3’s engine compartment, engine mounts, ladder chassis frame and front differential casing, while the suspension’s torsion bar rates and shock absorber rates have also been modified.

A diesel also figures strongly in the H3’s future. GM is keeping quiet about it for now, but a development of the 2.0-litre common-rail four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit developed between GM DAT and VM Motori and launched recently in the Holden Captiva is thought to be the most viable proposition.

Speculation suggests that the Captiva’s engine can be enlarged to 2.2 or even 2.5 litres in capacity.

Future H3 developments also point to E85 ethanol-powered versions, along with the implementation of bio-diesel engine technology.

When it comes to engines, the H3’s Achilles' Heel is the size of its engine bay, since the stubby nose design so important in preserving the original HMMWV – or "Humvee" – military vehicle’s lines precludes the fitment of bulky engines.

In fact, its current inline five-cylinder engine, originally devised for use in an aborted Chevrolet van, was the only credible engine that would fit. It is a development of GM’s Atlas inline six-cylinder engine found in some US Chev trucks – but with a cylinder lopped off it.

Launched in America in early 2005, the H3 is built off existing General Motors Corporation (GMC) componentry, using much of the platform belonging to the latest iteration of the GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado medium-sized pick-up truck, launched in 2004.

Around 56,000 were sold the US in 2006, compared to 14,000 of Hummer’s larger, more expensive H2 SUV. The latter is loosely based on the full-sized GMC Suburban truck.

Currently the US accounts for the lion’s share of H3 production, with only 12 per cent exported – mainly to Europe and the Middle East.

Hummer hopes that total sales outside of North America will exceed 25 per cent within the next few years. Holden expects to sell around 750 H3s in its first full year of availability in Australia, with this number rising when further models come on line.

In fact, GM says it has been surprised by the number of internet enquiries for all its Hummer models – at least 20 per cent have connected to sales, according to Hummer’s general manager Martin Walsh.

In Australia, Holden claims it already holds 200 firm orders for the H3.

As previously reported, the H3 will be available in three models – base, Adventure and Luxury – with the hardcore Adventure adding an electronic rear differential lock, off-road suspension and a shorter low-range ratio of 4.03:1.

The H3 employs a torsion bar front/leaf rear suspension set-up, powered rack-and-pinion steering, 216mm of ground clearance, 60 per cent grade capability, 40 per cent side slope capability and a 610mm fording depth.

Holden claims that the H3’s size, weight and fuel consumption are "comparable" with other mid-sized SUVs such as the Toyota Prado, Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi Pajero.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

HUMMER. Is it the Willys Jeep of the post-911 era, and so a symbol of war and devastation, or is this an American foot soldier for freedom and justice? It’s a conundrum that is enough to do your head in. We can understand if you’d rather just ignore the H3 completely.

It gets worse for the Hummer too.

59 center imagePost fuel-crisis, global warming and anti-SUV sentiments, the Hummer is the salt in Susan Sarandon’s wound as she protests against climate change in her Toyota Prius, the fly in David Suzuki’s global village ointment, or a poke in the eye of Bob Brown’s Green Party agenda.

In this day and age, a Hummer – any Hummer – is out of step with the world’s woes, even before you sit inside and drive it... and this is exactly what we have just done.

On sale now, with deliveries beginning around July, the H3 is a mid-sized 4WD wagon with lots and lots of baggage to haul around its deceptively modest cargo area.

In isolation it seems humungous, but closer inspection reveals a Mitsubishi Pajero-sized SUV, but with less room inside. Until the circa-2010 compact Hummer ‘H4’ lobs in, this is the smallest they come.

Like a granny flat on wheels, the H3’s roof is low, and the interior not very spacious, even for a mid-sized 4WD.

On the other hand, the functional and well-presented cabin surprised us. It boasts acceptable-quality trim and surface finishes, without the rubbish plastics that so blight most American vehicles. In fact, the sheer subdued-ness of the interior struck as a good thing.

However, among the generally well-finished group of media assessment H3s for us to peruse, there lurked a dog, full of rattles and squeaks, and complete with gale-force wind noise and a terminal case of wobbly wheel syndrome. Hummer insisted that particular H3 was an exception.

That aberration aside, we were pleasantly surprised by the H3’s relative refinement, from its cushy ride to the lack of mechanical noise intrusion.

So far, so pretty good then, and we began to reassess prejudices about a product that – frankly – we knew very little about, reinforced by a couple of hours of heavy-duty, hardcore off-road driving.

Admittedly it was on Hummer’s very own dedicated proving ground, but this vehicle’s ability to cross some very inhospitable country had us wondering whether any Land Rover or Jeep could possibly keep up.

The H3 – in the steep, muddy, rocky and river-wading environment we crawled through – impressed us with its mountain goat, go-anywhere gusto.

Combine this with the upper-spec models’ classy cabin presentation, and we were starting to see a real Land Rover Discovery rival.

But then you drive the H3 on the open road, and this car’s biggest (and very much unexpected – especially for a big American vehicle) failing rears its ugly head like a Far Right Republican protester at a lesbian whale land-rights meeting.

Under that stout bonnet beats the unmistakable thrum of a five-cylinder petrol engine, producing 180kW of power at 5600rpm and 328Nm of torque at 4600rpm from 3.7 litres.

That’s like slotting a base VE Commodore engine – complete with its similar four-speed automatic gearbox, but minus a cylinder – in a full-sized Toyota LandCruiser. It might seem passably powerful cruising on the highway, or roaring from the traffic lights, but any overtaking or uphill speed requests are met with a wail from the nose and a dragging from the rear.

The upcoming V8 and (as yet unconfirmed) turbo-diesel variants cannot come soon enough. Even Hummer’s Stateside personnel will quietly admit that GM had little choice but to fit the only engine that fits behind the H3’s bad blunt nose.

We could also do without the vague steering, and its susceptibility to crosswinds even at moderate speed. And how many three-legged drivers will get to enjoy the foot-operated park brake in the manual model? So we came away from the H3 wondering not why it has any right to exist, but instead thinking up ways that GM could improve the on-road performance and dynamics of a vehicle that – for a select bunch of buyers – offers a very capable off-road alternative to the Toyotas, Jeeps and Land Rovers of this world.

Look beyond the socio-political baggage that the badge brings, and the H3 is not the stupid ignorant American some may have you thinking it is.

It’s just a bit slow, that’s all.

2007 Hummer H3 range pricing:
H3 $51,990
H3 (a) $53,990
H3 Adventure $57,990
H3 Adventure (a) $59,990
H3 Luxury (a) $59,990
Read more: Hummer H3 here by July, priced from $52,000


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